Motorhomes Caravans and Destinations - April 2019
Author and Photographer Lisa Jansen
Reproduced with permission from Bauer Media - Subject to copyright in its entirety.
Exploring Great Barrier Island
Lisa Jansen escapes far from the madding crowd in her Ford Transit campervan to Great Barrier Island, where relaxation has never been easier
What if I told you there is a place only four and a half hours from Auckland that offers stunning scenery, beautiful white, sandy beaches, countless picturesque walks and hikes, good coffee, great fishing and surfing, and friendly locals, but that never gets overly crowded Ė even during the busy summer season?
Believe it or not, such a place exists. Itís called Great Barrier Island and might well be one of New Zealandís best kept secrets. Thatís not to say itís everyoneís cup of tea.
Getting there is a bit of a mission and not cheap, cell phone reception is often patchy, campgrounds only offer cold showers and long-drop toilets, driving faster than 60 kilometres an hour is basically impossible thanks to the narrow and windy roads, and if youíre looking for a movie theatre or shopping complex, youíre out of luck.
What might be a little too basic and boring for some is heaven for those of us who love nature and the feeling of getting away from our busy lives.
I fell in love with Great Barrier when I first visited back in 2013 for a week, and again in 2016. Since I now call a 1999 Ford Transit campervan home, I decided to make the most of it this year and take the van over to the island for three weeks to really have a chance to enjoy it and explore.
The view over Harataonga Beach from the top of the Loop Walk
Great Barrier, also known by its Maori name Aotea (which means canoe), is a special kind of place. Located in the outer Hauraki Gulf, about 100 kilometres north-east of Auckland CBD, itís technically part of Auckland, but in reality, itís a world of its own. Remote and without any power- or phone lines connecting it to the main island, the Barrier runs on water tanks, solar power and generators.
Even though the island is twice the size of our capital city, less than a thousand people call it their permanent home, most of them living off farming and tourism. About 70 percent of Great Barrierís 285 square kilometres is protected conservation land, and thanks to its mind-blowing night skies, the whole island is a Dark Sky Sanctuary. The islandís east coast offers vast white, sandy beaches while the west coast is a boating and diving paradise with many sheltered bays. In between are lush green mountains.
Claris, on the east coast, is the main centre and home to the airport, council office, library, a grocery shop, petrol station, a handful of cafes and restaurants, a medical centre and a little gallery and gift shop. Youíll also find shops and other signs of civilisation in Tryphena and Port Fitzroy. Otherwise, the island is all about nature and getting back to basics.
If you want to bring your motorhome or caravan (or any other vehicle), there is only one option: the four-and-a-half hour journey with the SeaLink ferry from downtown Auckland to either Tryphena or, less frequently, Port Fitzroy further up north on the west coast.
While the ferry trip is slow, on a beautiful day it is an attraction in itself (look out for dolphins; they like to swim along in the ferryís wake). On a rough day, the ride over can be more of an adventure than an attraction, especially for those who quickly get seasick Ė but still worth it.
The cost for the car ferry varies depending on the season, and the size of your vehicle. Itís best to check directly with SeaLink.
For those who donít want to take a vehicle over, the much faster Hauraki Express passenger ferry or a 30-minute flight from Auckland with Barrier Air or Fly My Sky offer alternative options.
Where to stay
Our main camp at Medlands Beach Campground
There are no official freedom camping spots on Great Barrier, and youíll have a hard time finding nice places to park up for free. Much of the island is not accessible by car or is private land and there arenít many public car parks that would make good overnight spots.
I recommend staying at one of the DOC campgrounds. Itís only $13 per person per night, and I am happy to pay this considering the amazing job DOC is doing looking after the campgrounds, the wildlife and the walking tracks.
Parked up at Whangapoua (Okiwi) campsite for the night
The DOC sites are relatively basic but in idyllic locations and usually close to a beach or other spots worth visiting. All of them have cold showers, long-drop toilets and sinks to wash dishes. Over summer, some can get busy, but after the end of the school holidays, you might well find yourself alone for the night at any of them.
Itís also worth noting theyíre mainly just big grass areas and finding a flat spot to park can be tricky. Bring your levellers!
During my three-week visit, I spent time at the five DOC sites that are accessible by car:
Things to Do
The Harataonga Campsite
Dumpstations and fresh water
Dumpstations and fresh water access, or should I say the lack thereof, are two of the big challenges when visiting Great Barrier Island, especially when you want to stay for several weeks.
There is one dumpstation on the island, by the landfill in Claris. However, due to its limited capacity, youíre only allowed to dump black water (not grey water), and there is nowhere to fill up drinking water.
While all the DOC campgrounds have fresh water, they recommend you treat it before drinking and they all run on tanks so would probably be less than impressed if we came and filled up our 100-plus litre water tanks.
This is another reason why I recommend staying on campgrounds as you can use their facilities to do dishes and shower, significantly reducing the amount of fresh water you need and the amount of grey water you produce.
I filled up my water tank right before I left and used it mainly as drinking water. My 80 litres lasted over two weeks, and I only had to buy some extra drinking water for the last few days.
Food, Drinks, Shops & More
My Fat Puku in Claris does great coffee, breakfast and pizzas
While the Barrier is remote and basic, it does have pretty much everything you need. There are several little shops on the island that stock groceries and other essentials. However, be aware that buying food (or anything else) is expensive.
I always bring as much as possible with me. Having said that, My Fat Puku in Claris does excellent coffee, breakfast and pizzas so is well worth a visit, and I can also recommend the Pa Beach Cafť right next to the Stonewall Store in Tryphena.
If youíre after a quick but filling treat, try the burgers and hot chips at Swallow on the main road in Claris.You can find a petrol station in Claris, and you can also get fuel at Mulberry Grove by Tryphena and Port Fitzroy, but be aware of the sometimes limited opening hours (especially in Port Fitzroy).
There are laundromats in Claris by the petrol station and Mulberry Grove at the back of the store. Both charge around $6 for a load of washing, which seems reasonable given the whole island relies on tank water. And if you find yourself in need of a pharmacy, youíre also in luck. There is one on the main road in Claris, where thereís also a health centre should you need one.
Good to Know
Watching the sunset from my spot at Akapoua Campsite
For more info:
The Great Barrier Island Tourism website is your first port of call for information about the island and its attractions. www.greatbarrierislandtourism.co.nz
the DOC website, you can learn more about the parks, hikes and campgrounds.
Visit the SeaLink website to check ferry sailings and rates Ė www.sealink.co.nz
Ask the friendly locals for recommendations when you get there; theyíre often the first to know whatís going on!
permission from Bauer Media - Subject to copyright in its entirety.